Born and raised in Milwaukee, a product of the city’s public schools and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee, Brandon Ramey was a natural fit to lead Quad’s effort to work with community leaders to help bring much needed investment to central Milwaukee neighborhoods. As site director of Quad MKE, the company’s city training and recruitment hub, Ramey oversees the site’s many initiatives focused on workforce development, mentorship and community health.

The creation of Quad MKE, he said, represents the organization’s foundational values in action.

“Our founder Harry Quadracci established these values for a reason,” said Ramey. “Milwaukee is a part of the Wisconsin community, it’s a part of Quad’s community, so we have to continue to create spaces for people to see themselves working for our organization.”

Although fairly new — the site only became operational earlier this year — Quad MKE is already becoming an integral part of  the Century City neighborhood where it’s located. We recently sat down with Ramey to learn more about the center and how it is breaking down barriers to family-sustaining careers.

What is the vision for Quad MKE? 

Quad MKE is a recruiting and training hub focused on talent sourcing, retention and elevating perceptions. That last goal has four pillars: Enhancing the communities where our employees live and work, providing educational opportunities to more people, making the industry and Quad more reflective of the diverse population, and improving the mental and physical health of our society. We’re taking those pillars and developing different initiatives that support them. Our vision is to create healthy communities and a nurturing environments in the Milwaukee community.

What are you currently working on? 

Quad MKE builds on the momentum of our Project Impact Program started in partnership with Running Rebels, JobsWorksMKE and other community groups to create a pipeline into entry-level manufacturing careers. Quad MKE expands that to include administrative and creative agency positions and a broader range of career preparation. We provide training to recruits from the city of Milwaukee before they start within our organization. Those trainings focus on financial literacy, work culture and environments, how to overcome challenges, the importance of being on time. It’s really training around soft and hard skills to help set our new employees up for success once they enter Quad.

But we’re also developing other pipelines to attract talent from the city of Milwaukee, because entry-level manufacturing employees are not the only talent pool that exists here. There are people who’ve been underemployed, who’ve faced a lack of opportunities. So, how do we also build a pipeline into administrative and creative agency careers — client services, creative, marketing, HR, accounting — and really use Quad MKE as a hub to allow individuals from the community to come in and learn about all the opportunities Quad has across our entire platform? So that is one big piece of Quad MKE.

So, you’re building a talent pipeline. Do you keep working with those employees once they join Quad?  

Another area of focus for us is retention — thinking about not only how we bring that talent in, but how to retain and develop that talent. We’re looking at how we can break down as many barriers up front to allow employees to come in and be able to focus on building their careers.

For example, we offer free transportation from and back to Quad MKE. We purchased several vans and hired drivers from the Milwaukee community. They meet here, and we take them to our facilities in Hartford, Sussex, West Allis and other locations, and they are getting paid for their time on the van. Quad understands that transportation is so important to economic success and we continue to look for ways to help employees with this challenge. In addition, we engaged a small business, Randy’s Good Food Service, a small catering company, to provide meals — breakfast and lunches — for those who are on the morning shift.

Much of Quad’s foundation was built in communities surrounding Milwaukee, and there’s often been a lack of exposure to the city within these communities. So we also work to expand our employee-leaders’ understanding of the challenges facing employees we bring in from the Milwaukee community. For instance, some  of the employees we work with have been through the justice system — and this is their chance to get back into the workforce. So we’re looking at some training for our employees, and recently participated in a re-entry simulation where employee-leaders can step into the shoes of an employee who’s been incarcerated and see what it’s like to deal with the different aspects of re-entry into society, on top of trying to sustain a career.

Brandon Ramey and artist Vedale Hill at Quad MKE
Brandon Ramey and artist Vedale Hill at Quad MKE

Can you talk a little bit about Century City and its relevance? 

At one point, Century City, and the surrounding community as a whole, was the most prominent, thriving, affluent Black community in the entire nation. A lot of manufacturing companies were birthed here. A.O. Smith [a major manufacturer of industrial products and equipment now focused on commercial and residential water heaters]  had a facility here. Master Lock was founded in this community. Electric control manufacturer Cutler-Hammer, purchased by Eaton in 1978, was founded in this community.

During the Great Migration, a lot of Black Americans came from the South to this part of the country for these high-paying manufacturing careers — even my grandfather. But about 20 to 30 years ago, there was a huge flood that impacted many of the manufacturing facilities in the central city. After that, many of these manufacturers moved to the surrounding suburbs. Once that happened, it was kind of a ripple effect. The community started to see a shift in what it was used to. When these companies moved away, it created a gap where this community had less access to well-paying jobs and started to decline. When we think about that history, Quad MKE is a truly a unique opportunity to work with the community and be part of its next chapter.

What results are you seeing from the Impact Program, and what impact do you hope it has on the community at large?

Around 750 people have come through our workforce development program over the past couple of years through our partnerships. Last year we brought in just over 150 people through the program, and we have a lot of success stories. For example, there have been participants who came into the program through entry-level manufacturing, and now, three to six months later, they’re in salaried administration roles.

In our administrative spaces, our manufacturing spaces, everywhere Quad lives, I want to see the diversity of thought that represents the population. When you talk to a lot of people here at Quad, they’ve been here 30, 40, 25, 15 years, and I want people from our Milwaukee community to be able to tell that same story. That’s one piece. Then, through the work of our DEI Task Force we are working on programs to ensure representation at leadership levels as well.

I also want people to see that Quad really is investing in the community. We’re not just trying to hire talent to benefit us as an organization. We’re showing up in many different ways. One example of that is our partnership with Milwaukee Public Schools where we brought a group of students to our corporate headquarters and printing plant in Sussex, Wis. for a tour and to mentor them on career possibilities after graduation, regardless of whether or not it’s with Quad. We’re investing in the redevelopment of a local park here, Melvina Park, and working with 30th Street Corridor to be a part of the community revitalization work they’re doing.

So, when I think about impact, it’s more than just hiring folks into our organization. It’s about people. It’s about how we are investing in the community from many different perspectives — how we can have an impact on the community in a number of different ways that are tangible, that are effective. There’s a lot of work in front of us, but we’re excited.